Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas

People who don’t know about Obamacare can’t benefit from Obamacare

One suspects that’s the point.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Texans, and in particular the state’s Hispanic population, might remain in the dark on the benefits of the new federal health care law because outreach efforts are largely focusing on the 24 states participating in the Medicaid expansion and state-based insurance exchanges, officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said [last] Monday.

Texas is not among those states; Gov. Rick Perry and Republican leaders have argued federal health reform would eventually bankrupt the state. But Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, a member of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Advisory Committee on Minority Health, said at a Monday meeting that just because a state like Texas isn’t expanding Medicaid or implementing a state-based health insurance exchange doesn’t mean it should be excluded from federal marketing aimed at Hispanics.

“We can’t pretend all is rosy,” he said. “I don’t think this communication plan is working.”

Two-thirds of Hispanics in the U.S. say they do not have enough information about the health reform law to understand how it will affect them, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Health Tracking Poll. Texas has more Hispanic residents than any state but California, and without the Medicaid expansion, 22 percent of them will remain uninsured, according to the Urban Institute’s American Community Survey.


Special federal funding known as navigator grants, which require at least one community-based nonprofit to operate as a health reform outreach provider, will become operational in Texas around September or October, according to Kelly Dinicolo, technical adviser at CMS. These nonprofits will provide in-person enrollment assistance to help people buy insurance — in Texas, it will be via a federal health insurance exchange — or direct them to Medicaid, if they qualify.

Dinicolo and other government officials said they have launched some limited advertising in Texas, but mainly through online marketing because it is easier to target a younger demographic. For those who do not have access to online information, CMS has announced a partnership with libraries to help people navigate the health reform changes.

The newly launched informational website about health care reform,, has also launched a Spanish version,

There’s also Be Covered Texas, in English and Spanish, which is a statewide campaign launched in March by Blue Cross Blue Shield Texas to help enroll Texans in the exchange, and Get Covered America, launched in June, aimed at informing people about the October 1 enrollment period opening. Hopefully, they can help to fill the gaps. But let’s be clear here: The reason we’re in this position is because 1) Rick Perry and most of the Republicans in the Legislature refused to expand Medicaid; 2) Perry and the Lege refused to do a Texas insurance exchange and have not lifted a finger to abet the federal effort; and 3) the Republican-controlled Congress has refused to appropriate any more money for the federal information program about exchanges. If people remain uncovered or uninformed despite the hard work of the people and groups heroically trying to overcome these obstacles, it’s not their fault.

The insurance exchanges are coming. Whether we get some form of “Medicaid” expansion or not, this will be a key part of bringing health insurance to many currently uninsured Texans.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, the state’s largest health insurance provider, is launching a statewide campaign on Tuesday aimed at getting Texans enrolled in health plans through an online marketplace created by federal health reform.

Texas won’t have its own state-specific health insurance exchange; Republican leaders here have rejected that option as part of their opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

Blue Cross Blue Shield’s “Be Covered Texas” initiative aims to draw as many of the 6 million uninsured Texans as possible into a one-size-fits-all federal health insurance exchange, an Orbitz-style website where they can determine if they qualify for subsidized insurance or purchase private plans ahead of the 2014 deadline to carry insurance. Open enrollment begins in October.

“The Be Covered program is about converting the uninsured in our state to insured status,” said Bert Marshall, the company’s president. “It’s about getting educational materials in the hands of community partners and other people who may be influential to the populations that are currently uninsured.”

Blue Cross officials said that they were not sure how much the initiative would cost but that they would spend what it takes to reach out to every county in Texas. The company stands to benefit from the outreach; it will offer coverage through the exchange in addition to its current private insurance portfolio. But Marshall said that to the extent that the campaign can “significantly erode or eliminate the uninsured, that is a good thing for all Blue Cross members.”

Marshall said Texas’ decision — so far — not to design a state-based insurance exchange “creates a level of uncertainly for us, as all decisions are being made out of Washington, D.C.” He added that Blue Cross would like it if Texas embraced another aspect of the Affordable Care Act — accepting federal financing to expand Medicaid to cover more poor adults.

You and a lot of other people dude. BeCoveredTexas is not the exchange itself, as we won’t have one till the federal exchange is ready, it’s a guide for what to expect from the Affordable Care Act. Here’s its About statement:

Be Covered Texas is a grassroots campaign introducing uninsured Texans to the new health insurance options available under the Affordable Care Act. The campaign provides user-friendly information and on-the-ground guidance to help families understand the new health care law. We work with community-based organizations and partners large and small to reach people where they live, work, learn, worship, text and tweet. The campaign will join with partners to educate their members, to hold neighborhood events linking families to services, and to help Texans Be Covered.

Getting the word out about the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, especially to the population that will be eligible for subsidized coverage, is a huge and daunting task. As Wonkblog has pointed out, many of the potential beneficiaries of Obamacare are completely unaware of what their options will be and what is about to be available to them. Be Covered Texas, and every other organization that undertakes this task, has their work cut out for them.

Here comes that B-Cycle expansion


Houston’s bike-sharing program downtown is getting a boost from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, city officials announced Wednesday.

The insurance company will contribute $750,000 to expand the B-Cycle system from three stations and 18 bikes to 24 stations and about 200 bikes, the city said in a news release.

“Bike Share is a great new transportation program for Houston and with the support of BCBSTX we are able to expand our pilot into a thriving program, providing a real commuter and recreational transportation option for workers, residents and visitors, improving health and quality of life,” Mayor Annise Parker said in the release.

The partnership could accelerate the program, which has been delayed by slow movement on permits and federal grant agreements. The U.S. Department of Energy is another major sponsor of the program, via a grant.

With the expansion, officials believe the system could generate about 25,000 trips annually, a roughly 12-fold increase from the current use.


“We hope this investment will help Houston children and families, not only find more convenient transportation, but get healthy and stay healthy through increased, fun physical activity,” said Bert Marshall, president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, in a news release.

The Mayor’s press release is here, the full Chron story is here, and my previous updates on Houston B-Cycle are here and here. Click on the story link to see a map of the forthcoming B-Cycle kiosk locations. You’ll be very well covered downtown, and there are other useful locations as well. I expect the college campuses will be next in line, most likely via a similar partnership, and beyond that I’d like to see further expansion along the new rail lines and into the Washington Avenue corridor, which might even help a bit with the parking situation there. Longer term, I hope they’ll look at Upper Kirby and the Uptown/Galleria area, neither of which are terribly bike-friendly (though I’m sure there are things that can be done to ameliorate that) but both of which also have nasty traffic and parking problems that can use all the help they can get. It could hardly take longer to bike from Richmond to San Felipe along Post Oak than to drive it, and you can literally park by the front door of your destination if you pedal it. Once funding is available, that’s got to be a no-brainer. Anyway, this is great to see. Expansion launches in March, so it ought to be done by the time my office moves downtown in May. I’m very much looking forward to taking advantage of this.